For the previous Parts of a Bridge to Somewhere click here.

-- 81 --

From: Rabbi Eliezer Shemtov
To: Dr. Mario Grinberg
Date: January 3, 2008

Dear Dr. Grinberg,

I am finally writing to you, thanks to the short "chat" we had today .

What can I tell a father whose son is about to marry a non-Jewish woman and whose grandchild is undergoing a reform conversion?

I can imagine that there must be much turmoil in your mind and heart. On the one hand it is painful, yet on the other hand you do not want to lose your child and you want to see him happy.

What can you do about it?

Nothing that I can say will help, and in fact I don't even know what to say...

All I can do is send you an embrace of support and hope that they will return to the path of their ancestors.

I do believe, though, that now more than ever it is important for you to intensify your own personal commitment to and study of Judaism, not only for your benefit but, as the head of the household, as an example and source of inspiration and motivation for your family members well.

Best regards,

Eliezer


-- 82 --

From: Dr. Mario Grinberg
To: Rabbi Eliezer Shemtov
Date: January 5, 2008

Dear Eliezer:

Thank you for your words and subtlety.

The question that comes to mind is: Can one be Jewish without being religious? I would answer this question with a resounding 'yes'. A different question though is: Can Judaism survive without religion?

This question is more difficult for me to answer. I think that I do not need to be religious in order to remain Jewish, but perhaps society has changed.

In any case, I think that I have given up as far as my children are concerned. Regarding Carolina, it is different, but of course, I did not influence her decision.

I hope that all, each in his own way, can be happy, with harmony and peace in their homes. They chose their ways freely (Is that what Free Choice is all about, the cause of so many headaches?)

I wonder if they should have been allowed to choose so freely. I do not know.

On the other hand, how would I have been able to influence them to travel a path that I do not feel for?

Anyway, my esteemed friend, thanks once again.

Regards,

Mario


-- 83 --

From: Rabbi Eliezer Shemtov
To: Dr. Mario Grinberg
Date: January 7, 2008

Dear Dr. Grinberg,

Thank you for your mail.

I think that the issue depends on the definition one has regarding being Jewish; what does it mean to be Jewish and why is it important to continue being so.

There are two possible answers: 1) It is merely a matter of tradition; 2) being Jewish is an essential condition and Judaism is our raison d'etre.

If one considers it to be important merely as a matter of tradition, it is most likely that it will not last very long, because a "love" that is present will outweigh a tradition and nostalgia of the past if they are incompatible... If however one considers Judaism to be the essence of one's personal condition, and not merely an inherited load, one will want to do everything in one's power to keep it intact and express it as fully as possible.

The next question is: what does it mean to be "religious"?

You say: "Can one be Jewish without being religious?" I would answer this question with a resounding "yes".

Instead of using the term "religious" which is very ambiguous, I would use the more precise terms "believing" or "practicing". One can be a Jew without practicing, but one cannot be a Jew without being a believer, because the spiritual DNA of a Jew contains a "gene" of belief in G‑d. One's faith might not express itself and it may be hidden, but it is there. One does not have to acquire faith; one merely has to uncover it. The tools necessary for accessing and activating it are the Jewish observances...

What do you think?

Eliezer


-- 84 --

From: Dr. Mario Grinberg
To: Rabbi Eliezer Shemtov
Date: January 16, 2008

Dear Eliezer:

I understand the difference you point out between a traditional Jew and a believing Jew. Undoubtedly you are right regarding the degree of Jewish identity in one and in the other.

What concerns me is that sometimes faith turns into fanaticism (meaning exaggerated passion for something, not tolerating any challenge to one's beliefs); obviously that is not your case.

In this regard I am concerned about my daughter. Carolina does not tolerate any questioning, to the extent that she recently told me that she does not want to discuss religion with me.

What I have observed is that since her engagement to Daniel, her commitment to halachah (I believe that's what it's called) has intensified. She doesn't eat the kosher food that we buy any more, they cook their own food, they have their own kosherized plates and silverware; if we go out to a restaurant they bring their own food, plates and silverware, etc. All of this makes life together more difficult.

Besides, they told me that there might be a possibility that they will not be able to visit our home any more because it is not kosher. Is that what the halachah says??

I have noticed the tendency to look down at non-practicing Jews. They even said that a cousin who is getting married at the Reform temple would not be considered to have had a Jewish wedding, which prompted me to ask if they considered my marriage to her mother to have been a Jewish marriage since I did not get married through the Ashkenazi community. She didn't answer me.

I am afraid that the way her faith is progressing is not the correct way. She does not have any tolerance for anyone who thinks differently.

I doubt that the halachah requires one to distance himself from his parents in the event that they are not practicing Jews.

But I feel that she is distancing herself from us. Carolina likes to be outstanding in everything that she does. That is the way she was in sports and I think that in this case, too, she wants to take her religious beliefs and practices to the max.

I think that extremes are not good. I am really worried and disconcerted. We'll see what happens after the wedding. I hope not to lose my daughter. (Paradoxical, no?)

Esteemed Eliezer, I send you a strong hug,

Mario


-- 85 --

From: Rabbi Eliezer Shemtov
To: Dr. Mario Grinberg
Date: January 16, 2008

Esteemed Dr. Grinberg,

Thank you for your email.

I understand what you say regarding fanaticism. It can be that way at times. Sometimes someone becomes so enthusiastic about something and does not want to be challenged. It does not only happen regarding matters of religion and faith; it can happen in all areas of life.

It is not my way of practicing or teaching Judaism, as you correctly pointed out. Without having talked to your daughter about it, I cannot tell if that is the case with her or not. Perhaps she does not want to discuss the matter with you because she feels that you are fanatic in your position and she feels that talking about the issue will not be productive.

I am not saying that you are that way, just that maybe she perceives it to be so.

I think that many rabbis or religious people would not be able to achieve the sort of dialogue that we have. You are an intelligent man with very clear ideas, very rational, and very sure of yourself. You would intimidate anyone who thought differently than yourself. It so happens that the Rebbe has taught us to tune into another person’s essential condition, namely his soul, and that is why I didn’t run away from the challenge and was able to understand you and foster a productive (for both of us, obviously) dialogue. But not all religious Jews were trained with the Rebbe’s approach.

It can also be that your daughter wants a home where she will be accepted and respected as she is, without constantly having to prove and defend herself and her behavior. Being Jewish implies an ongoing process of development and growth. When one commits to a Jewishly observant lifestyle, it dos not necessarily imply that they have the answers to all questions… All it means is that they have come across a lifestyle and value system whose beauty or coherence attracts them and to which they would like to subscribe. They continue to learn as they grow.

Regarding your daughter's "fanaticism" about the food, I think that it is of paramount importance that you inform yourself of the details of Kashrut observance; both as far as the philosophy and the practice are concerned, in order to be able to form an educated opinion regarding the "normalcy" or "exaggeration" of your daughter's behavior.

Just like you cannot measure decibels with a thermometer, so too, can you not measure norms of one system using parameters of another. What is "normal" for someone who does not keep kosher is not "normal" for one who does, and vice versa.

I understand that you feel that the requirements of Kashrut are not applicable, relevant or necessary nowadays. We can argue about that if you so desire. But if you think that way, you must understand that someone who does feel that Kashrut is applicable, relevant and necessary, will behave accordingly; very different from your lifestyle, obviously, but not necessarily less coherent or more fanatical than you.

As far as "looking down at non-observant Jews" is concerned:

I understand that one must respect everybody but that does not mean that one must respect everything. In other words, even though I might like and respect you, that does not imply that I think that what you do is correct… Respecting and liking someone who is non-observant does not mean that I have to respect his or her definition of Judaism. In fact, I myself do not base my definition of Judaism on my own personal opinions, but rather on what halacha says. For the Jew that respects halachah, halachah is what defines what Judaism is and isn't. When one marries not in accordance with halachic requirements, it may very well be that he is not married. I do not see that as being intolerant, just a matter of coherence and intellectual rigor.

Let me use a simple example. You respect me. What would you say if one fine morning I express an opinion about a gynecological matter, your specialty, that you understand to be totally without scientific basis, claiming the right to do so because in a democracy I have the same right to opine as you do? Obviously you would tell me to take a walk... And rightfully so, because democracy allows me to study medicine if I so choose, but not to opine about medical matters if I haven't studied medicine... I think that the point I am making is clear... You have the same rights as I do, not to opine about Judaism without having studied it, but to study and then give an opinion....

I can understand that it is not easy for you. There are many things about Judaism that you disagree with. Some are due to a difference of opinion while others are due to a lack of authentic information; some are probably a result of social incompatibility... It is difficult to commit to eating only kosher food when all of one's friends and the society in which one lives do not respect Kashrut...

When one is accustomed to living like a non-Jew, it comes to a point where what is really and naturally yours feels foreign and strange...

This thought has two possible implications:

1) To better understand and appreciate the steps your daughter is taking. She is recuperating something that is genuinely Jewish, and therefore really hers;

2) To reexamine your own personal life and analyze how much of what you think, feel and do is a reflection of what you really are and how much is a reflection of an identity that is essentially foreign, having been absorbed gradually by osmosis, but remaining foreign nevertheless..

I reiterate my respect and appreciation for you and I hope that nothing that I have written has offended you or been disrespectful. I took seriously your explicit request that I not use too much anesthesia... ;)

Regards,

Eliezer


-- 86 --

Date: January 18, 2008

Chat

Eliezer: hi

Mario: hi, Eliezer

Eliezer: everything Okay?

Mario: yes, great, processing your last email....

Eliezer: okay

It may have been a bit too strong

Mario: no, not at all, friends must tell one another what they think, otherwise they wouldn't be real friends. no?

Eliezer: ok

Mario: it's fine. I will answer you. I have some comments to make regarding what you wrote.

Eliezer: ok

I anxiously await your reply

Mario: ok, thanks for being a receptive Rabbi, even though I am somewhat of a "nudnik".

Eliezer: Pleeease!

Stubornness is a very Jewish characteristic. When used properly, it is a great virtue.

Mario: although I understand nudnik to mean "a pain", it can also be understood to mean stubborn.

In any case, thank you once again.

Eliezer: so far, so good..

Mario: ok. I hope everything continues to be okay. If I tire you, please let me know.

Eliezer: okay

Mario: we'll be in touch...


-- 87 --

From: Dr. Mario Grinberg
To: Rabbi Eliezer Shemtov
Date: January 21, 2008

--- Dear Eliezer:

As usual, I thank you for your answers and readiness to carry on this dialogue, which I certainly consider to be very enriching for me.

Esteemed Dr. Grinberg,

Thank you for your mail.

I understand what you say regarding fanaticism. It can be that way at times. Sometimes someone becomes so enthusiastic about something and does not want to be challenged. It does not only happen regarding maters of religion and faith; it can happen in all areas of life.

--- I totally agree.

It is not my way of practicing or teaching Judaism, as you correctly pointed out. Without having talked to your daughter about it, I cannot tell if that is the case with her or not. Perhaps she does not want to discuss the matter with you because she feels that you are fanatic in your position and she feels that talking about the issue will not be productive.

--- Perhaps you are right.

I am not saying that you are that way, just that maybe she perceives it to be so.

In all humility, I think that many rabbis or religious people would not be able to achieve the sort of dialogue that we have.You are an intelligent man with very clear ideas, very rational, and very sure of yourself. You would intimidate anyone who thought differently than yourself. It so happens that the Rebbe has taught us to tune into another person's essential condition, namely his soul, and that is why I didn't run away from the challenge and was able to understand you and foster a productive (for both of us, obviously) dialogue. But not all religious Jews were trained with the Rebbe's approach.

--- Truthfully, I have never had a rabbi interested in understanding my doubts and in answering them for which I reiterate my thanks and my admiration for you.

I thank you also for your opinion regarding my intelligence. Coming from you I am really honored. I hope to deserve it. For me, too, the exchange has been very productive.

As far as "looking down at non observant Jews" is concerned:

I understand that one must respect everybody, but that does not mean that one must respect everything. In other words, even though I might like and respect you, that does not imply that I think that what you do is correct… Respecting and liking someone who is non-observant does not mean that I have to respect his or her definition of Judaism. In fact, I myself do not base my definition of Judaism on my own personal opinions, but rather on what halacha says. For the Jew who respects halachah, halachah is what defines what Judaism is and isn't. When one marries not in accordance with halachic requirements, it may very well be that he is not married. I do not see that as being intolerant, just a matter of coherence and intellectual rigor.

--- In a previous exchange you conceded that we do not know who has the real truth (a very important concession). Isn't it intolerant or at least presumptuous to say that the only Jews who are considered married are those that profess the Orthodox practice? Am I mistaken in believing that according to Jewish law, one does not even need a rabbi in order to get married? If so, why the difference if you are Orthodox or not? Haven't we all been discriminated against enough as Jews? To now be discriminating amongst ourselves?! Besides, I humbly ask: must one dress a certain way (like you do) in order to be closer to G‑d? Those of us who dress differently are sinning?

Let me use a simple example. You respect me. What would you say if one fine morning I express an opinion about a gynecological matter, your specialty, that you understand to be totally without scientific basis, claiming the right to do so because in a democracy I have the same right to opine as you do? Obviously you would tell me to take a walk... And rightfully so, because democracy allows me to study medicine if I so choose, but not to opine about medical matters if I haven't studied medicine... I think that the point I am making is clear... You have the same right as I do, not to opine about Judaism without having studied it, but to study and then give an opinion....

--- I agree but (there is always a 'but', maybe because I am stubborn...) if I as a gynecologist will tell you something that is patently false, like "babies are delivered by storks" you will rightfully tell me to take a walk... We all have enough general culture that allows us to have an opinion or disagree with some sort of law that we consider to be unjust or mistaken.

I can understand that it is not easy for you. There are many things about Judaism that you disagree with. Some are due to a difference of opinion while others are due to a lack of authentic information; some are probably as a result of social incompatibility... It is difficult to commit to eating only kosher food when all of one's friends and the society in which one lives do not respect Kashrut...

--- With regard to this subject, there is a question that you didn't answer: is it possible that my daughter will not visit me because my house is not "Kosher"? Is that what halachah says?

When one is accustomed to living like a non-Jew, it comes to a point where what is really yours feels strange...

This thought has two possible implications:

1) To better understand and appreciate the steps your daughter is taking. She is recuperating something that is genuinely Jewish;

--- I understand that. It makes sense from an Orthodox point of view.

2) To reexamine your own personal life and analyze how much of what you think, feel and do is a reflection of what you really are and how much is a reflection of an identity that essentialy foreign, having been absorbed gradually by osmosis, but remaining foreign nevertheless.

--- Yes, it is true. I would call that the "silent assimilation". In all humility, I tell you that I would like to believe, and express it in practice, but it seems to me, at least for now, improbable, especially the rigid form of the Orthodox.

I reiterate my respect and appreciation for you and I hope that nothing that I have written has offended you or been disrespectful. I relied on your explicit request that I not use too much anesthesia... ;)

--- I have the same feelings of respect, affection and admiration for you. Nothing has offended me; quite the contrary, you have made me reconsider my way of thinking. As far as respect is concerned, I think that the mere fact that you answer my questions, product of my ignorance, shows that you are very far from being disrespectful...

Regards,

--- Same here. Once again, thank you.

Eliezer

--- Mario


-- 88 --

From: Rabbi Eliezer Shemtov
To: Dr. Mario Grinberg
Date: January 21, 2008

Dear Dr.

Thank you for your email.

I hope that we will not get confused with the interwoven answers...

I understand that one must respect everybody but that does not mean that one must respect everything. In other words, even though I might like and respect you, that does not imply that I think that what you do is correct… Respecting and liking someone who is non-observant does not mean that I have to respect his or her definition of Judaism. In fact, I myself do not base my definition of Judaism on my own personal opinions, but rather on what halacha says. For the Jew that respects halachah, halachah is what defines what Judaism is and isn't. When one marries not in accordance with halachic requirements, it may very well be that he is not married. I do not see that as being intolerant, just a matter of coherence and intellectual rigor.

--- In a previous exchange you conceded that we do not know who has the real truth (a very important concession). Isn't it intolerant or at least presumptuous to say that the only Jews who are considered married are those that profess the Orthodox practice? Am I mistaken in believing that according to Jewish law, one does not even need a rabbi in order to get married? If so, why the difference if you are Orthodox or not? Haven't we all been discriminated against enough as Jews? To now be discriminating amongst ourselves?! Besides, I humbly ask: must one dress a certain way (like you do) in order to be closer to G‑d? Those of us who dress differently are sinning?

It is totally erroneous to say that the only Jews who are considered married are those that profess the Orthodox practice. That is not what I believe. What I do say is that if the wedding was not performed according to certain requirements stipulated by Jewish law, there is no marriage. In other words, what determines if a Jewish couple is married or not, is not their level of observance but if their marriage was carried out according to the requirements of halachah or not. Who determines if it was carried out properly or not? A competent rabbi. If the rabbi who officiated at the wedding was not competent to do so, independently of him being Orthodox or not, it is possible that the couple is not married, because there is no guarantee that things were carried out properly. The competent rabbi is simply the guarantee that things were done according to the requirements of Jewish law.

Haven't we all been discriminated against enough as Jews? To now be discriminating amongst ourselves?!

Do not confuse 'discrimination against' with 'discrimination between'. When you decide that one patient must be operated on while another must not, is that considered 'discrimination'? Yes, you are discriminating between one who needs an operation and one who doesn't. Obviously you are not discriminating against either one of them. The same is true for halachic considerations.

Besides, I humbly ask: must one dress a certain way (like you do) in order to be closer to G‑d? Those of us who dress differently are sinning?

Not everything in Jewish life is a matter of 'sin' or 'not sin'. When a doctor does not dress in white, is he less of a doctor than one who does? Obviously not! Dressing in white – or green – is a custom that doctors have. Like any uniform, it helps reinforce one's identity and the responsibilities – and privileges - that go with it.

Jewish attire is an expression of a condition, not its cause… Although, there are certain standards of modesty regarding dress that are an integral part of Judaism, such as which parts of the body must be covered, what I said regarding a 'uniform' refers only to the specific style of clothing, and not to the essential components. Also, dressing differently than one's environment helps to defend against assimilation, by constantly reminding one of his uniqueness.

Let me use a simple example. You respect me. What would you say if one fine morning I express an opinion about a gynecological matter, your specialty, that you understand to be totally without scientific basis, claiming the right to do so because in a democracy I have the same right to opine as you do? Obviously you would tell me to take a walk... And rightfully so, because democracy allows me to study medicine if I so choose, but not to opine about medical matters if I haven't studied medicine... I think that the point I am making is clear... You have the same right as I do, not to opine about Judaism without having studied it, but to study and then give an opinion....

--- I agree but (there is always a 'but', maybe because I am stubborn...) if I as a gynecologist will tell you something that is patently false, like "babies are delivered by storks" you will rightfully tell me to take a walk... We all have general culture that allows us to have an opinion or disagree with some sort of law that we consider to be unjust or mistaken.

Of course you can have an opinion and disagree. The question is: is it an objective, intellectual position or simply a subjective and emotional one? Using your example of "babies are delivered by storks", obviously, were you to say that, you would not be expressing a medical opinion, but a personal one. You have all the right to do so, I will still be your friend, and I will respect your right to your opinion, but I would not send my wife or daughter to you for medical advice…. The same is true regarding giving an opinion about Judaism, it's philosophy and standards: everyone can give his personal opinion… That does not mean, however, that all opinions expressed by people "just as Jewish as I am" become valid Jewish alternatives.

I can understand that it is not easy for you. There are many things about Judaism that you disagree with. Some are due to a difference of opinion while others are due to a lack of authentic information; some are probably as a result of social incompatibility... It is difficult to commit to eating only kosher food when all of one's friends and the society in which one lives do not respect Kashrut...

--- With regard to this subject, there is a question that you didn't answer: is it possible that my daughter will not visit me because my house is not "Kosher"? Is that what halachah says?

No. There is no problem with visiting a home that is not "Kosher". It seems that there is some confusion somewhere.

When one is accustomed to live like a non-Jew, it comes to a point where what is really yours feels strange...

This thought has two possible implications:

1) To better understand and appreciate the steps your daughter is taking. She is recuperating something that is genuinely Jewish;

--- I understand that. It makes sense from an Orthodox point of view.

And from the "non-Orthodox" point of view, keeping kosher is a Hindu custom?

2) To reexamine your own personal life and analyze how much of what you think, feel and do is a reflection of what you really are and how much is a reflection of an identity that essentially foreign, having been absorbed gradually by osmosis, but remaining foreign nevertheless..

--- Yes, it is true. I would call that the "silent assimilation". In all humility, I tell you that I would like to believe and express it in practice, but it seems to me, at least for now, improbable, especially the rigid form of the Orthodox.

I suggest that you not think in revolutionary but rather evolutionary terms when considering possible changes in the Jewishness of your personal lifestyle… Think of the next step, rather than the last one….


-- 89 --

From: Dr. Mario Grinberg
To: Rabbi Eliezer Shemtov
Date: February 3, 2008

Dear Eliezer:

How are you? I am in the midst of preparations for my daughter's wedding.

You are cordially invited to attend. The Chupah will take place at....... Buenos Aires.

The celebration will take place at..............

I hope that you will honor us with your presence, that way I will be able to meet you in person and give you that hug that I have given you so many times cybernetically.

See you there.

Mario


-- 90 --

From: Rabbi Eliezer Shemtov
To: Dr. Mario Grinberg
Date: February 3, 2008

:)

Thank you!!

The date is missing.!

:)


-- 91 --

From: Dr. Mario Grinberg
To: Rabbi Eliezer Shemtov
Date: February 4, 2008

I apologize. It will take place on ........ at 12.30 p.m., followed by lunch.

I hope that you can make it.

Thank you!

to be continued...